The BJP has targeted the Congress after Medha Patkar participated in the Rahul Gandhi-led ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, in an attempt to paint the opposition party inimical to the interests of Gujarat as the activist was seen as the face of protests against the Sardar Sarovar project.
While Patkar and the protests she championed for decades arguing against the displacement of people due to the project are no longer a burning issue for voters, political experts believe that the BJP’s campaign gels with its larger attempt to present the Congress as anti-Gujarat, a recurring theme in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll speeches over the last two decades.
Interactions with voters in different parts of the state suggest that many of them do see Patkar as someone whose protests delayed the completion of the project, which has brought water to Saurashtra-Kutch region even though they do not see it as a key poll issue. Though she also draws praise from some for raising her voice against displacement of people.
Residents of Vantadu village in Banaskantha note that Patkar was opposed to the Sardar Sarovar project that has brought water to several villages in their vicinity. They cannot like someone who created obstacles in constructing water canals, they said. Rajesh Tadvi, a tribal from the district, though adds that his relatives in Narmada district, where the project is located, talk highly about her as she raised her voice against their displacement.
Locals argue that the benefits of the project, which brought water for drinking and irrigation in a vast region of Gujarat, are huge.
Amid all this, water continues to be an issue in parts of Kutch region, and is one of its major poll issues, just like in previous elections. All parties are full of promises on solving the long standing crisis by bringing water from Narmada river.
The Kutch Branch Canal (KBC) of the Sardar Sarovar project on the river, which was to provide water to the Mandvi region, had recently developed a breach, disrupting water supply and locals say they continue to face problems. In other areas, such as Abdasa and Bhuj, the work for the pipeline connecting with Narmada main canal is yet to start, locals say. Several BJP leaders agreed that ”water crisis” is an issue but blamed Narmada Bachao Andolan, once spearheaded by Patkar, for constant delay in the Sardar Sarovar project.
”The entire project has been delayed due to Narmada Bachao Andolan. Had the project taken off early, situation would have been different. We are committed to bringing water to the region. We are confident once the elections are over, work will start on a war footing to set up the infrastructure to bring in regular water supply in the region,” BJP MLA from Abdasa, Pradhyuman Sinh Jadeja, recently told PTI.
BJP’s Bhuj assembly constituency president Ghyanshyam Thakkar blamed Patkar and her movement for the delay by trying to create hurdles. It is here that the ruling party hopes to score by attacking Patkar and linking the Congress with her.
Congress leaders say the continuing water crisis in the region despite nearly 25 years of the BJP’s uninterrupted rule is the biggest example of the ruling party’s administrative and political failure.
”Even after so many years, if you have to blame others for failing to provide water to the region, then the BJP leaders should quit politics and sit back at home,” Kutch district Congress president Yajuvendra Jadeja said.